Using this pocket camera the last few months has been a great conversation starter while out and a joyful experience that has helped reignite my love of analog photography. This camera system is a nostalgic bundle all wrapped up in one.
Upon its market debut in 1978, the Pentax Auto 110 arrived amid the backdrop of 110 film’s seven-year presence.
During this span, the 110 film format was gradually forming a reputation characterized by mediocrity. The 110 film format (half the size of 135 (35mm) format) was introduced in 1972 and marketed as convenient and easy to use, though limited in terms of image quality compared to larger formats.
While the 110 format did boast noteworthy instances of excellence, such as the Minolta 110 Zoom SLRs (find on eBay), Rollei A110 (find on eBay), and 110 Kodachrome, the majority of cameras tailored for this film format were, frankly speaking, low-quality and subpar.
Pentax defied convention by introducing a marvel: the world’s smallest interchangeable lens SLR camera, the Pentax Auto 110. The full system consisted of six different lenses, two flashes, and a winder for automatic film advance.
In 1982, Pentax released the Auto 110 Super with a few minor differences. The Auto 110 Super included a timer with indicator LED on the front, a shutter lock, and a button for backlight compensation. Also, film winding was improved from the Auto 110’s two-stroke advance feature to a single-stroke film advance lever that advanced the film and cocked the shutter in one winding.
The Pentax Auto 110 Camera System
Despite its miniature size, the Pentax Auto 110 offered a surprising level of functionality.
Pentax introduced what they called “System 10.” This comprehensive set consisted of the Pentax Auto 110 camera, an autowinder, a duo of flashguns, and an assortment of three prime lenses.
Complementing this collection were filters, close-up lenses, and lens hoods, forming a fully integrated system. Even though this camera was marketed for the average consumer, it certainly came with a lot of accessories and options.
Incorporating a bright viewfinder, the Pentax Auto 110 is equipped with a split-image focusing screen that aligns with its Through-The-Lens (TTL) light metering system. Because exposure is metered through the lens by a silicon photodiode, there is no manual option.
This setup operates within a programmed exposure framework, accommodating a range that spans from 1 second at f/2.8 to a 1/750 second at f/13.5.
Curiously enough, the camera’s ability to determine film speed relies on a ridge’s presence or absence on the cartridge, conforming to the Kodak 110 film standard’s specifications. The film speeds weren’t precisely defined, categorized simply as “low” or “high.” This ambiguity left film and camera manufacturers with the responsibility of assigning significance to these categories.
Within this context, Pentax opted for ISO 80 and 320 as their designated settings. Commercially available films rated at ISO 100 and 400 offer practical compatibility due to their proximity. Yet introducing a film with ISO 200 speed could lead to either under or overexposure, straying from the optimal range.
Exposure details are conveyed through a single LED positioned at the bottom right of the viewfinder, illuminating upon a half-press.
The LED employs a green hue to denote higher shutter speeds (exceeding 1/30), while adopting an amber glow for slower speeds (falling below 1/30). Officially limited to a 1-second extension, the shutter’s capabilities seemingly extend further, accommodating exposures of up to 4 seconds.
Lenses and Focusing
The lenses designed for the Pentax Auto 110 do not have aperture blades and instead rely on the body’s twin-bladed shutter assembly to set f-stops.
Given its entirely automatic exposure system, the camera is devoid of manual controls, except for focus adjustments, basically making this camera more of a point and shoot system.
On the front of the camera, you’ll find nothing but a lens release lever. As you move to the top of the camera body, there are sockets for attaching an external flash unit, and a silver shutter button accompanied by a cable release socket.
Pentax Auto 110 Technical Specs
Camera Type: Single Lens Reflex (SLR) Manufacture Dates: 1979-85 Metering: TTL Shutter Speeds: Programmed Electronic Behind the Lens – 1sec – 1/750sec Aperture: f/2.8 – f/13.5 Lenses: 7 lenses available ranging from 18mm to 50mm Accessories: Flashgun, Motor Drive, Lens hoods and filters Flash: Pentax 110 Flashguns AF100P and AF130P Batteries: 2 LR44 Batteries Weight: 172 grams Size: 99mm x 55mm x 45mm
Usability of the Pentax Auto 110
I bought 110 film from Lomography for a little over $20 for their three pack of Tiger 200 color film. I have not tried any of their b&w film, but they do sell and still produce a variety of options for the 110 camera. From Lobster Redscale, to LomoChrome Purple, Lomography makes it easy to be creative and have fun with your 110 camera.
I shot my two rolls of Tiger 200 over a period of a month or so, even traveling cross country with it. I used the 24mm lens with a UV filter attached. Both of my rolls were developed and scanned by TheFindLab using a Noritsu scanner. I did not color correct any of the photos below, only straightened them.
The first roll I put through the Pentax Auto 110 (find on eBay) ended up blank, and, after researching, I realized that two batteries were required for the camera to work.
Having a blank roll come back can be very discouraging, especially because the shutter worked and advanced as if it had batteries. Lesson learned. I found the small space where the batteries go, next to the film cartridge, and installed two LR44 batteries and put in a fresh roll of Tiger Color 200, and the second roll worked perfectly.
Depending on the lighting situation, the camera gives you feedback via the LED light in the viewfinder. Most of the images were shot outside during summer, so the light was glorious.
Some photos came out underexposed and some were blurry due to hand shake. I struggled using the split-image focusing, but most of the shots came out well despite my errors.
The film exhibited graininess, which is par for the course considering the small negative size. It’s worth noting that a well-exposed shot tends to yield better results. Underexposed negatives showcased pronounced grain, yet the resolution remained commendable.
On the color front, I must say the images below showcase a generally pleasing palette. An interesting side note is that if you want to change the cassette mid-roll, you only lose one frame while doing so.
Light Leaks with the Pentax Auto 110
Some users have observed sporadic small orange light leaks scattered across their frames. While my rolls did not present this problem, here is some advice to remedy those pesky light leaks!
This phenomenon is often attributed to a flaw in the backing paper within the cassette.
While this occurrence is relatively common, there is a workaround: put a strip of tape across the window frame present on most 110 cameras. This approach might obscure your view of the frame count; however, this compromise effectively eliminates those pesky orange light leak spots.
You can also peel back the tape if you wish to check your frame count momentarily.
Another common issue is “golden orbs,” but I did not experience these either. These light leaked outcomes are aligned with the ethos of Lomography, embodying the sense of unpredictability that characterizes the brand.
I love how compact and portable the camera, lenses, and film cartridge are. The camera easily fits in my belt bag and draws conversations with those around.
Having a variety of different lenses is convenient and the overall sharpness of the film is pretty impressive for such a small package. I would love to hear your experiences or thoughts on this unique compact camera!